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Is Horniness Hereditary?

Turns out libido might be among the many gifts mom and dad bestow upon you

Some of us are hornier than others. While some people think about boning constantly, masturbate furiously and fuck like jackrabbits, a decent faction of humanity has a much lower libido, and there’s no amount of cajoling that can pique their interest in sex. 

There are countless variables at play when it comes to parsing out these differences. Everything from sexy underwear to high stress levels can impact how randy we feel on any given day, but there is some evidence to indicate that horniness might be hereditary, too. In fact, if your parents or grandparents were particularly amorous, there’s some chance they gifted you with their same horny genes. 

Like most medical epiphanies, studies on the matter can be traced back to a bunch of boner-sporting lab rats. In 2004, scientists figured out that pumping rodents full of a substance called apomorphine made their dicks hard. This drug, commonly used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, is what’s known as a “dopamine agonist” — it tricks the brain into believing it received a hit of dopamine, and activates its dopamine receptors. In a summary of the research, scientists admitted they weren’t sure exactly what was going on here, but that the “dopamine D4 receptor” did appear to play a role in the “regulation of penile function.”

A quick, myth-busting caveat here — dopamine is best-known as the “pleasure chemical” but this isn’t exactly true. According to a 2018 piece published by The Verge, it’s more like a neurological reward system — without dopamine you can still feel pleasure, but you likely won’t feel motivation to keep doing the pleasurable thing.

Following this logic, a group of researchers in Israel began to infer that the DRD4 gene — whose genetic makeup determines the response of the D4 receptor — could tell us about someone’s sex drive. In 2006, they recruited 148 college students for what remains one of the most influential studies on the topic. Participants were sent questionnaires with queries like, “How important is sex in your life?” and “How often do you have sexual fantasies?” and researchers sorted through them in an attempt to devise a scientific scale of horniness. 

The results were used to form sexual profiles of each student: how easily they were turned on, how much they craved sex and how good they were at fucking. Then, the team matched these profiles with the genetic makeup of each student’s DRD4 gene.

Per a summary of the research published by Nature, the researchers found that “students with one particular version of the gene scored roughly five percent lower, on average, in sexual desire than those with an alternative gene variant; a small but statistically meaningful difference.” An estimated 70 percent of us carry the “low-arousal” version of this gene, compared to just 20 percent with the “high-arousal” version. So, if you’re constantly horny, you’re a rare breed.

There are other factors to consider, too. Past research has linked the high-arousal version of the DRD4 gene to novelty-seeking — people with this variant pursue the thrill of new experiences, and research also indicates this gene variant could be linked to attention deficit disorder. With that in mind, it’s possible that these people are uniquely turned on by the thrill of new sexual partners, rather than just having a higher sex drive in general. To wit, there’s also such a thing as a “playboy gene” — basically, if daddy was “promiscuous,” there’s a good chance his offspring will be, too. This has way more to do with behavior and socialization than sex drive, though — the “playboy gene” doesn’t suggest innate horniness, just a higher tendency to seek sex outside monogamy. 

Yet when it comes to the question of hereditary horniness, there really is just that 2006 study — and in an interview with NPR, Yale medical professor Sydney Spiesel said he “can’t stress enough how preliminary [it] is.” Scientific understanding of the subject hasn’t developed a great deal since then, and other experts have argued that sex drive can’t truly be inherited. Instead, they surmise, it’s “derived from a complex mix of biology, neurology, psychology and social interaction.” Similarly, testosterone levels, which are also commonly implicated in libido, are generally not thought of as hereditary.

So, is horniness genetically granted? Meh. If you’re willing to put blind faith in one study and ignore all the other factors that influence sex drive, I guess you could argue that it might be. But it’s more likely influenced by environmental and social factors than how often your dad jerked off in his heyday, and for that, we can all be thankful.